WRC New Zealand: Tanak fires first salvo in opening super special

Hyundai’s Ott Tanak has grabbed an early lead at Rally New Zealand after winning a tricky opening World Rally Championship super special stage from M-Sport’s Craig Breen.

WRC New Zealand: Tanak fires first salvo in opening super special
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The 2019 world champion benefitted from drier road conditions on a technical tarmac stage, held in the centre of host city Auckland, which marked Rally New Zealand's return to the WRC following a 10-year hiatus.

Tanak managed to pip Breen by 0.9s to win the stage, while the latter's committed effort was completed in damper conditions.

"We will see what we can do. My head was spinning in here and I had no idea where the road was going - it was not so fun, actually," said Tanak after successfully navigating through the stage's roundabout road furniture.

Hyundai's Thierry Neuville was third fastest, 1.6s shy, while championship leader Kalle Rovanpera dropped 2.6s following a rare error.

The action at a spectator-filled 1.78km Pukekawa Auckland Domain stage got underway after WRC crews were treated to a traditional Maori welcome at the Auckland harbour front.

Once festivities were completed, it was Hyundai's Oliver Solberg and Toyota's Sebastien Ogier that posted the first benchmark runs as the pair stopped the clock with identical times on the board.

As the road began to dry the pair would eventually tumble down to tied eighth on the leaderboard, 4.5s adrift of Tanak.

Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: M-Sport

A strong run from Gus Greensmith resulted in the M-Sport driver briefly holding top spot until his teammate Breen took the spoils.

That time stood until Tanak fired through to demote Breen to second, while Neuville slotted into third ahead Toyota's Takamoto Katsuta. Elfyn Evans was 2.2s back in fifth.

Rovanpera had to settle for sixth after losing time having misjudged the amount of rotations around one of the roundabouts. It was a similar mistake to that of M-Sport privateer Lorenzo Bertelli during his early run.

In WRC2, former factory Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon topped the second tier by 1.2s as reigning Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen impressed on his WRC debut.

"It was awesome to see so many people here," said Paddon. "This is just the start and we're hoping to see more people out tomorrow. It's a shame about the moisture - it made things really slippery and shiny."

The rally moves to New Zealand's more traditional fast and flowing gravel stages on Friday.

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